The Silent Witness: Remembering stories and encouraging change
On Sept. 16, 2016, Maricarmen Quiroz-Octaviano, Texas A&M University class of 2017, was shot and killed by her boyfriend of three years in her apartment in College Station, Texas. She died within a semester of completing her Bachelor of Science degree in genetics from the Texas A&M Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics.
Her silhouette, along with many other victims of domestic homicide, are standing in the lobby of the Health Professionals Education Building on the Texas A&M University Health Science Center campus in Bryan, Texas, as a part of a Silent Witness exhibit. Each victim’s domestic violence story is engraved on a plaque on their chests.
Domestic violence misconceptions
“A stereotype of abuse exists in our society,” said Matt Hoffman, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing. “Many people do not realize both women and men get abused.”
According to the United States Department of Justice, one in four women and one in nine men experience severe intimate partner physical violence, sexual violence or stalking with impacts such as:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Use of victim services
- Contraction of sexually transmitted diseases
“Also, the phrase ‘domestic violence’ has a connotation that implies the violence only occurs within a marriage or a committed relationship,” said Hoffman. “This understanding is not correct.” For domestic violence to happen, two people simply need to share a domicile. The violence can happen between roommates or siblings. In other words, domestic violence does not require a romantic relationship.
The importance of domestic violence awareness
“With this exhibit, we wanted spread awareness about the issue of domestic violence and homicide,” said Denise Crisafi, PhD, coordinator for interpersonal violence prevention at the Texas A&M University Office of the Dean of Student Life. “The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported 34 percent of female homicide victims in the United States are killed by an intimate partner.” She also noted every 2.5 days a woman in Texas dies at the hands of her current or former intimate partner.
“These awareness efforts create an understanding that these traumas happen,” said Laurie Charles, MSN, RN, SANE-A, SANE-P, clinical assistant professor at College of Nursing in the Forensic Health Care Program. “If people realize the problem exists in their community, then they can potentially save themselves or someone they know in the future.”
Forensic nursing’s role in the solution
“Forensic nursing brings the art and science of nursing into the legal world,” said Charles. Forensic nurses and sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) have specialized training to collect evidence, consult with legal authorities and testify in court. “We try to educate and support our patients. We want them to understand the potential lethality of domestic violence, because victims and perpetrators often downplay the severity of the violence.”
If you find yourself in a situation of abuse, the first step is to get yourself safe. “People should know the available services,” Charles said. “People can find support in many places—police departments, schools and hospitals among many others. The national hotline, RAINN, is also a great resource. Wherever you are located, RAINN can direct you to local services.”